Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life

0140434887-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life by Herman Melville
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

While known today for vengeful captain chasing a white whale, Herman Melville’s writing career began with a travelogue of his adventure on the Nuku Hiva and was his most popular work during his life. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life is a semi-autobiographical book that Melville wrote about his approximately 4 week stay that he “expanded” to 4 months in the narrative.

Melville begins his narrative when he describes the captain of the “Dolly” deciding to head to the Marqueas Islands and then events surrounding the ship’s arrival at the island as well as the actions of the French who were “taking possession” of it. Then Melville and a shipmate named Toby decide to ‘runaway’ to the valley of the Happar tribe and execute their plan when they get shore leave. Climbing the rugged cliffs of the volcanic island, they hide in the thick foliage from any searchers but realize they didn’t have enough food and soon Melville’s leg swells up slowing them down. Believing they arrived in the valley of the Happar, they make contact only to find themselves with the Typee. However the tribe embraces the two men and attempt to keep them amongst their number, but first Toby is able to ‘escape’ though Melville can’t help but think he’s been abandoned. Melville then details his experiences along amongst the cannibalistic tribe before his own escape with assistance of two other natives of the island from other tribes.

The mixture of narrative of Melville’s adventures and the anthropological elements he gives of the Typee make for an interesting paced book that is both engaging and dull. Though Melville’s lively descriptions of the events taking place are engaging, one always wonders if the event actually took place or was embellish or just frankly made up to liven up the overall tale. The addition of a sequel as an epilogue that described the fate of Toby, which at the time added credibility to Melville’s book, is a nice touch so the reader doesn’t wonder what happened to him.

Overall Typee is a nice, relatively quick book to read by one of America’s best known authors. While not as famous as Melville’s own Moby Dick, it turned out to be a better reading experience as the semi-autobiographical nature and travelogue nature gave cover for Melville to break into the narrative to relative unique things within the Typee culture.

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Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Travels with Charley: In Search of AmericaTravels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the fall and early winter of 1960, John Steinbeck packed up a camper-converted pickup truck and along with his dog went in search of America. Travels with Charley finds Steinbeck making a round trip around the United States with his dog, the titular Charley, looking to rediscover the voice, attitude, and personality of the characters he peoples his fictional work with. Yet like all journeys this one takes unexpected turns that the author doesn’t see coming.

Save prearranged meetings with his wife in Chicago and then in Texas for Thanksgiving, Steinbeck and his loyal canine Charley traverse various sections looking to get back in-touch with other Americans that he’s missed by flying over or traveling abroad. Quickly though Steinbeck learns that the uniqueness of speech and language was beginning to disappear into a standardize English in many sections of the country. He finds the Interstate and Superhighway system a gray ribbon with no color in comparison to state roads that show color and local character of the area. And his amazement about how towns and cities have begun to sprawl losing local character as they became mini-versions of New York or Los Angeles which includes his own home town in the Salinas valley, highlighting the changes the country had occurred to the nation during his life time alone by 1960.

Yet Travels with Charley isn’t gloom or despair, Steinbeck writes about the national treasure that is the various landscapes around the country that help give locals their own personality even in the face of “standardizing”. His interactions with people throughout his trip, whether friendly or hostile, give the reader a sense of how things remain the same yet are changing in the United States at the time of Steinbeck’s trip. But Steinbeck’s interactions and observations of this travel companion Charley are what make this book something that is hard to put down. Whether it’s Charley’s excitement to explore that night’s rest stop or Steinbeck’s amazement at Charley’s nonchalance at seeing a towering redwood or Steinbeck’s concern over Charley’s health or Charley’s own assessment of people, Steinbeck’s prose gives Charley character and lets the reader imagine the old dog by their side wherever they’re reading this book.

Written later in the author’s career, the reader is given throughout the entire book the elegance of Steinbeck’s prose that embeds what he his writing about deep into one’s subconscious. Though there is debate about how much of Travels with Charleyy is fiction or if an individual is a composite of several others or even if events are ordered correctly, what the reader learns is that Steinbeck’s journey is unique to himself as theirs would be unique for them as well.

Written almost 60 years ago Travels with Charley details a changing America through the eyes of one of its greatest authors, even today some of Steinbeck’s passages resonate with us in today’s cultural and political climate. But if like me you wanted a book by Steinbeck to get to know his style and prose than this is the book to do so.

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Here is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History

Here is Where by Andrew Carroll
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.
Andrew Carroll’s chronicling of his search for, and travels to, little known locations of historical importance that have been forgotten or ignored was an intriguing concept upon seeing the cover for “Here is Where”.  Upon finishing the book, I can say that Carroll turned said concept into wonderful book that was a combination of investigative history and travel log that was hard to put down at the end of my lunch hour and work breaks.
Carroll’s begins the book by giving the reasons he decided to go cross country, numerous times it turned out, and write about places and individuals forgotten by popular history.  As Carroll learns on his travels, that just like that particular point in his life, it’s the circumstances surrounding the events in question that determined if they were remembered or not.  And without rehashing the entire book, Carroll is able to find interesting links between these forgotten facets of history that connect them to one another and even his own life and family.
Carroll is careful to write about the individuals and organizations that helped him to find the exact locations he was looking throughout his travels not only in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, but in the text itself.  Carroll highlights the local historical society volunteers or local history hobbyists that are sometimes the only individuals in a town that know the interesting facts of where they live.  And on rare occasions, Carroll is able to surprise even these individuals with what he’s discovered.
Although even this paperback edition have mistakes that weren’t corrected from the hardcover print namely some incorrect dates, spelling, and grammar; they are forgive able because their very few and far between which made them noticeable.  The biggest let down was the Carroll wrote about taken numerous photographs of the locations he visited, but none where in the book!  Even though Carroll did write very good descriptions, a picture is worth a thousand words.
“Here is Where”, is a wonderful read for anyone interested in history and takes out the big themes that academic historians seem to want to force fit things into.  Andrew Carroll reveals that important historical moments are not always remembered, but are nonetheless still relevant in the 21st Century by giving better perspective on events that are well remembered.  I can’t stress enough how much I recommend this book.